Notes from the Asylum

Published on Cyrano.org, by Ed Duvin, June 12th, 2008.

THE PROGRESSIVE COMMUNITY has long resisted a profound commitment to other beings, holding this would be a distortion of priority and proportion.  I find myself captivated by their contorted defense of the indefensible, but then entertainment is at a premium here at the asylum.  There is a touch of Ionesco at play, as humans engage in nonsensical debates while nonhumans continue to perish by the billions.  It is a telling depiction of our species, celebrating our self-importance from the labyrinth.

I migrated to the animal rights cause in the 1970s, drawn by the belief that never had so many been exploited for so long.  No matter how ingrained the cultural denial, a slaughter by any other name is still a slaughter.  Many of us who heard the call were veterans of other social justice struggles, but we were unprepared for the vexing path ahead.   Yes, there has been progress at the margins, but systemic relief remains elusive.

As with all forms of oppression, the underlying dynamics are many and varied.  What distinguishes this front, however, is crossing the species line.  This unleashes a stream of baseless assumptions, flowing from the human propensity to confuse myopia with wisdom …

… The salient question is whether the interwoven principles of justice are bound by a common thread, or limited in application to accommodate the powerful?  Exclusionary constructs have been used throughout time as a rationale for atrocities against humans, with the blood-filled caverns of oppression serving as a repository for this madness.  When applied to other beings, however, the same depravity is embraced by people of all ideological persuasions.  This is theater of the absurd at its most grotesque, and many of the actors don the clothing of progressives.  It can be said with certainty that Diogenes is not among them.

Bentham held that the preeminent consideration is whether animals can suffer, but I beg to differ with his emphasis on sentience.  I perceive the issue in more fundamental terms:  Who ordained humans with license to decimate other beings, driven not by compelling need, but desire to have what can be taken.  Those who fail to reach across the species divide invite complicity in the carnage, as tortured screams carry no less weight because our culture elects not to hear them.  Standing with the enslaved is an inviolable strand in the larger liberation ethos, and ignoring that imperative reveals a moral compass attuned only to one’s likeness.  Injustice honors no boundaries, as it is one monster with many heads. (full text).

(Ed Duvin, is Cyrano’s Journal’s Editor-at-Large and head of CJO’s editorials section. He is our organization’s top consigliere.  For decades, his writings and example—at times inevitably controversial but always uncompromising— on politics, philosophy, civil rights, and questions relating to the morality of human interactions with animals and nature have inspired generations of activists in the US and abroad. His characteristically low-key contributions to the humane movement, in particular, are enormous. In 1989, Ed wrote a landmark article that ignited the “no-kill” movement among humane societies. Until then, most shelters just gave the animals a few days’ reprieve for adoption and after that, it was the final injection. Today many shelters and humane societies—not just in the US and developed nations— have banned automatic euthanasia from their normal procedures. Eddie lives in Ann Arbor, with his muse and devoted companion, Donna).

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